Dunbar coach charged in stabbing of his wife Wounds are serious

history of abuse goes back to 1992

January 12, 1996|By Peter Hermann and Lem Satterfield | Peter Hermann and Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

The wrestling coach at Dunbar High School, who is regarded as one of the city's most successful coaches this decade, has been charged with breaking into his wife's home and repeatedly stabbing her with a screwdriver.

Harriette Matthews, 36, who lives in the 700 block of Montpelier St., was listed in serious condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Police said she was stabbed seven times in the back, twice in the left wrist and once in the head Wednesday.

Her husband, Damon L. Matthews, 36, a former Dunbar wrestling champion who was The Sun's 1993-1994 Baltimore City/County Coach of the Year, has a history of domestic abuse going back at least three years.

In 1992, he was convicted of beating Mrs. Matthews and was sentenced to two years of probation. A year later, a judge ruled that he had violated his probation when he tested positive for drug use. In court documents, Mrs. Matthews said she was "terrified of his presence" and pleaded for help.

Mr. Matthews, who lists his address in the 2400 block of N. Calvert St., was being held last night at the Baltimore City Detention Center in lieu of $250,000 bail. He is charged with assault with intent to murder, assault with a deadly weapon and violating a restraining order prohibiting him from going near his wife.

School officials were looking into the abuse and drug reports yesterday. Robyn Washington, a spokeswoman, said Mr. Matthews' work at the school had always been deemed "appropriate." She said administrators will meet with the coach when he reports back to work "to determine his status."

The coach is considered a part-time employee. He was hired in 1991 by the Maryland Athletic Association as a game official, which allows him to coach high school teams. He is paid by the city.

Longtime friend Cornell Bass, the state wrestling publicity director and a former assistant coach at the McDonogh School, said he was "stunned" to hear the news of the arrest.

"I knew Damon back when he was wrestling at Dunbar," Mr. Bass said. "You could tell there was a very strong, positive influence for him at home. And over the years, I've watched Damon demonstrate a relentless determination to help kids from the inner city."

Four of Mr. Matthews' former wrestlers, Martius Harding, Lydell Henry, Bruce Pendles and Hermondoz Thompson, also expressed shock. They described him as a strict but soft-spoken disciplinarian who was "like a big brother" and "a father figure."

Since the city joined the Maryland Public Secondary Athletic Association, three of the four wrestlers who have placed as high as second in the state tournament were coached by Mr. Matthews at Dunbar.

For two straight years starting in 1992, Mr. Matthews coached the Poets to a higher finish than any other city team in the post-season state tournaments, despite having eight wrestlers, fewer than most other coaches.

Wednesday night's incident began about 11:15 p.m., when Mrs. Matthews called police and reported that her husband had broken a window and was entering her home. Police said the woman was chased into the dining room and stabbed.

"He appeared angered that she would not let him in the home," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman. Mr. Matthews had told his wife he wanted to pick up some belongings, Agent Weinhold said.

Police officers arrived at the home a few minutes later and knocked on the door. The spokesman said Mr. Matthews answered and told them he had just stabbed his wife. Officers arrested Mr. Matthews and found the wounded Mrs. Matthews sitting on the living room floor. The screwdriver was on the kitchen table.

In 1992, Mr. Matthews was convicted of beating Mrs. Matthews, who, according to court documents, reported that her husband had said, " 'Since we can't get along, just set my soul free.' Then he began beating me."

Mr. Matthews was found guilty of assault and was sentenced to probation and treatment at the House of Ruth, a home for battered women that also counsels men. A year later, he was found guilty of violating his probation by testing positive for the drug PCP. He received a suspended six-month jail sentence.

In 1993, a judge granted Mrs. Matthews a restraining order after she said, according to court documents, that her husband had "threatened" her and broken into her house by breaking a window.

She said he "came in the house and held me hostage for four hours. I was terrified of his presence. Help!"

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